As I mentioned in the intro to my interview
with Don Coscarelli, it took me until quite recently to warm up to
Phantasm. As a franchise it fell between the experimental 70s and the
commercial 80s in tone, and coupled with Coscarelli’s love of ambiguity
and old fashioned mindfuckery, the result was a series of movies that
my teenage mind just couldn’t get a handle on.
This boxset was instrumental in putting me on the right track, and I guess there isn’t a higher recommendation than that.
with most of Anchor Bay’s output, this 5-disc collection lavishes
remarkable care and attention on the sort of movies most studios would
chuck out with a full-screen transfer and trailer and for anyone with
an interest in Phantasm there’s a load of worthy material to digest.
original 1979 movie remains the clearest distillation of what
Coscarelli was trying to achieve. It takes the nightmarish semi-logic
of an Argento movie and welds it (somewhat crudely, admittedly) to very
traditional American horror stereotypes.
all the best horror tales, it uses the fears of a child as its
springboard – in this case young orphaned Mike, who fears that his
idolized older brother, Jody, is going to abandon him. Lingering after
a friend’s funeral, Mike sees the town’s creepy new mortician The Tall
Man (Angus Scrimm) digging up the coffin and taking it back to his
Something is clearly not right – but is Mike’s paranoia causing him to imagine things?
a helluva weird flick, stuffed full of dwarves, other dimensions,
gun-toting ice cream salesmen and flying silver balls that drill into
trespasser’s brains. Like the movies that followed, Phantasm has an
off-kilter queasiness to it, the sort of hallucinatory reality that you
feel at 3am in the grip of a flu-driven fever. The sense that things
have been twisted a few degrees out of sync with what’s normal.
sequel, the only one of the series to be backed by a studio, is the
most traditional of the four – with James LeGros taking over the role
of Mike and the quirky stuff shoved to the backseat as the heroes take
to the road in pursuit of The Tall Man, with the aim of figuring out
just what the hell he’s up to and – if possible – stopping him. There’s
some guff about Mike having a psychic link to a girl, and the result is
probably the weakest entry in the franchise.
III saw the series back in the indie arena, and Coscarelli started to
play with some kooky comedy ideas. Mike and Reggie are still on the
trail of The Tall Man, but their paths diverge – kind of like a surreal
splatter version of The Two Towers. Reggie picks up a new kid sidekick,
a Cleopatra Jones-style blaxploitation ass-kicking partner and three
undead criminal foes. It’s goofy as hell, and annoyed the piss out of
hardcore Phantasm fans, but when taken in context it’s a welcome
diversion. In Phantasm III’s defense, it’s here that Mike’s story
starts to take on an interesting shape, as Coscarelli drops cryptic
hints of connections between him and The Tall Man.
IV – aka Oblivion – walks a fine line between bringing some sort of
resolution to the story without succumbing to the obvious. Mike heads
into the desert and faces some Christ-like temptations, while Reggie
has lost his goofball entourage and instead becomes hellbent on saving
Mike from his destiny. Interspersed with unused footage from the first
film, Phantasm IV throws all kinds of wacky flashbacks and dream
sequences into the mix – some of them genuinely clever – and the ending
does actually manage to deliver some sort of character closure without
ever solving any of the delicious mysteries littered throughout the
if you like movies that box everything off and come to neatly packaged
conclusions, avoid this boxset. These movies don’t make a lot of sense,
but they never slide into nonsense. If you like movies that monkey with
your mind, if you can appreciate the tongue-in-cheek game that
Coscarelli plays with the audience – where you can never be sure if the
random tangents and baffling images are clues in a larger puzzle or
just the writer/director jerking your chain – then you’ll love it.
used to be the first. Now I’m the second. Phantasm is the strangest,
silliest and most charming horror franchise I’ve seen and, Part II
aside, it’s a remarkably self-contained and single-minded venture. Same
creator, same cast, same stubbornly independent mood and tone across
four movies. That’s an achievement in itself.
far as extras go, each of the movies comes with a commentary –
Coscarelli and the cast on the first, second and fourth, and just the
cast on the third. The first movie also has some behind-the-scenes
stuff, and a bunch of deleted scenes, as does Phantasm III.
real bonus is the fifth disc which contains a stonking chunk of
documentary material, compiled with obvious care and affection for the
series, and featuring new and archive contributions from all the major
players. Phantasmagoria is the main course, a feature length look back
over the franchise, loaded with interviews and fun anecdotes that
really drive home the camaraderie that this motley bunch have
maintained over the years. It’s mostly talking heads, with a small
amount of behind the scenes footage, but it moves along nicely and is
thoroughly engaging. It’s been put together by Nucleus Films, the same
team who assembled new material for the Hellraiser boxset, as well as
the UK release of Bubba Ho-tep, and they’ve excelled themselves on this
Phantasm Genesis treads similar ground, and could probably
have been incorporated into the main documentary, but its focus on the
origins of the movies makes it a worthy standalone feature.
a short and rather silly feature with Reggie Bannister taking a tour of
old Phantasm locations, which veers between endearing cheese and
genuinely interesting info. You also get a quick interview with the
viking sex god of FX work, Greg Nicotero, who worked on Phantasm II hot
off his debut on Evil Dead II.
finally there’s Phandom, a look at some rather worrying Phantasm
obsessives who seem harmless enough, even if their adoration for an
obsure and oblique horror franchise goes way beyond normal human
then there’s the packaging, that groovy silver ball which will be hell
to find room for on the shelf but deserves to be ranked alongside the
Book of the Dead and the Hellraiser puzzle box as a merchandising
gimmick that just works, goddamit. After devouring this boxset, I dig
the hell out of Phantasm, and if you’ve ever been curious yourself,
this package might well sell you on it too.